Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 25, 2010 Links and Plugs

Awake at 2 am!

Interviews
Advice/Articles
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Happy book release day! (She's a Nebula nominee as well.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Essay: Playing Tricks with eBooks

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

I love eBooks, although for most people, I'm only interacting with it in one of its most rudimentary forms--via a desktop computer. I live in the Philippines, so dedicated eBook readers such as Amazon's Kindle or the Sony Reader is nonexistent (although hopefully, Apple's iPad will be changing that). And while mobile phones are prevalent here, sadly, I don't see cellphone novels becoming popular here.

As a reviewer, editor, and critic, I find eBooks to be very valuable. During awards season, what puzzled me was how people knew whether a work of fiction was a short story, novella, or a novelette? It's not like when I'm reading a story in an anthology, the editor or the author automatically identifies it as such. And I'm not about to count every single word. (An editor told me that it's six words per line and you count the number of lines per page.) But with eBooks, I can just highlight the relevant passage, and depending on the program I'm using, immediately get a word count or copy/paste it into my word processor and get a rough estimate.

Another useful function that I find handy, especially when doing research, is the search function. Want to know when was the first instance a character showed up? Or the last page they appeared in the book? Search! Similar to this is the ability to split the page or duplicate it. It's not useful in fiction per se, but if you come across a text that makes cross-references to another part of the book, instead of flipping pages, you can view them simultaneously. This is also where bookmarks can be useful.

When critiquing someone else's story--or reading someone else's comments on my writing--the format that I prefer tends to be Microsoft Word because of its feature to add comments and track changes to the document. It's a valuable tool to a lot of writers and editors but to some of them, what simply registers is that they're receiving an electronic document instead of an eBook.

Now my biggest problem with eBooks is that there's no one common format, and each format does something different. Take for example the lowly .txt file. Sure, I get the text, but it's ugly. Most likely the margins are wrecked and there's no typeface differentiation. What's starting to become prevalent these days is ePub, but the problem with ePub is that it's optimal for texts that don't use any illustrations (goodbye textbooks, picture books, or what is close to my heart, RPG books).

PDF is a mixed blessing. On one hand, most of the time, it's not really optimal for the device that you're reading it on. The popularity of PDF can be attributed to the fact that print publishers have to submit a PDF file to the printers, so it's simply a matter of copy-and-paste (and perhaps including an electronic signature or DRM for copyright protection). Despite following a book's traditional layout (the experience of which varies on the dimensions of the book and your monitor), it more or less gets the job done in terms of delivering the content. The illustrations are where they're supposed to be and the text is indented. Unfortunately, reading PDFs aren't great when all you have is a small screen (or a very, very large book).

Obviously, these limitations make it impossible to convert every single book. To this day, I don't think we'll ever see The Griffin & Sabine trilogy in eBook format. The charm of the book is in its tactileness. On the other hand, while it's possible to have an illustration-less version of one of my favorite children's books, Dinotopia, for ePub, it's most likely going to be more effective as a PDF--but even then, the art, I feel, will have less of an impact.

On the other hand, the various formats also make it possible to create new kinds of texts. When it comes to PDF eBooks, the most innovative industry right now is probably RPGs. They've done a lot with the format, everything from creating replicable cutout 3D maps to inserting multimedia into the file.

Most people don't count HTML as an eBook format, but I do, and honestly, the Choose Your Own Adventure-type narratives work best with HTML. Even the Encyclopedia Brittanica used HTML when it was originally released as a CD-ROM and it's a great format for reference books (just like Wikipedia... if only all the links were working and all the relevant keywords led to somewhere).

Even the humble .txt format would make, I think, a great poetry book, if there was an artist creative and daring enough to make use of the format. The appeal could lie in its simplicity.

These are, in my opinion, possibilities and the publishing industry in general is fractured when it comes to eBooks. Textbook publishers for example don't know what RPG publishers are doing, and the environment of romance eBooks is vastly different from science fiction eBooks. I don't think a convergence is inevitable, although a wise person could see how innovations in one field can be applied to another (as well as distinguishing the facets that can't).

February 24, 2010 Links and Plugs

Eeek. Lots of book releases today including Diana Rowland, Ari Marmell, Anton Strout, Stacia Kane, Mark Henry, and Amber Benson.

Interviews
Advice/Articles
News
Juno Books is running a contest here:

Demon Possessed by Stacia Kane

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23, 2010 Links and Plugs

Mentioned it yesterday but here's another shoutout to Wheatland Press's Polyphony 7. Pre-order it now.

P.S. I am a robot.

Interview
Advice/Articles
News
Happy book release day!
Blood of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22, 2010 Links and Plugs

Congrats to the Nebula and Stoker nominees!

Interviews
Advice/Articles
News
Australian SpecFic Snapshot 2010
It's really out, now:

Tails of Wonder and Imagination edited by Ellen Datlow

Book/Magazine Review: A Dark Matter by Peter Straub

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Disclosure: The publisher sent a review copy for the purposes of this review.

I'm still in my reading slump but I managed to sneak some time reading A Dark Matter. Peter Straub's writing is so powerful that the book continued to haunt me even when I've put it down.

There are several elements that make this a successful book. If we want to analyze it clinically from a writer's perspective, Straub has mastered all the fundamentals. Take for example the principle of the strong opening: this one hooks you immediately. At first glance, it's strange to begin a novel in a scene which has no bearing to the overall narrative plot-wise but in this instance, the inclusion of the bizarre--and perhaps coincidental--grabs the reader's attention and is the perfect excuse for the author to delve into the meat of the story.

Another aspect that Straub excels in is dialogue. What's obvious is how he manages to create distinct character voices and tones, and that's a challenge when you're diving into the mindscape of multiple characters. Granted, some leave a stronger impression than others, but A Dark Matter isn't necessarily about balance. One character I'd like to highlight is Hootie. Conceptually, he's an easy conceit to imagine: a character whose dialogue is entirely composed of quotations and allusions. A reader might think he is one of the simplest character's to create but when you think about it, writing such a character is actually very difficult: you'd have to research all the novels Hootie references unless you've memorized them by heart. It doesn't help that Straub's portrayal of the character is seamless and organic, reinforcing the illusion that Hootie is a quick and easy fabrication.

If we dig deeper into Straub's dialogue however, one realizes that this makes up a good portion of the book. Again, this is where Straub's mastery of the craft comes into play as he writes conversations that are as riveting and exciting as any fight or suspense scene. A lot of the conflict and characterization is conveyed through dialogue and the effect it has upon the reader is subtle yet potent.

What really impressed me however is the reader's complete immersion. There were numerous times when I was wondering whether this was a thinly-veiled autobiography by Straub. It's one thing to know that it's not, but as one digests the text, it's a possibility that repeatedly asserts itself. In that sense, this works as a fictional memoir of sorts, and how it eventually wins over the reader's sympathy.

What's tricky about reviewing A Dark Matter is that it's a layered and complex novel, and one that takes risks. Let's first talk about one of the riskiest scenes in the book: Right from the outset, Straub foreshadows that the final narrative would culminate with the narrator's wife, the Eel. The daring gambit with Eel's scene is that during her epiphany--and this is an epiphany that can get didactic as it wraps up the loose ends of the other narratives--she encounters a demon that's both heavily accented and loves books. The former quality I can imagine turning off some readers who simply find the situation too preposterous. And yet one could argue that this is Lee's mindscape and imagination, and fits the unreliable narrator motif that is prevalent throughout the novel. As for the latter quality, it might seem indulgent at first glance that our demon also happens to be a bibliophile, but if we dig deeper into the themes of the book, it fits with what Straub is attempting to accomplish. And here is where Straub's sleight of hand comes into play.

On the surface, A Dark Matter could be read as a personal story about morality: the narrator investigates a cult ritual that involves his friends and results in the murder of one of them, as well as the effective dissolution of the group. As we progress through the narrative however, new facts emerge and what seems like a black-and-white scenario transforms into one that's filled with shades of gray. It's a very human story, one that I'd label as literary, and what compounds its effectiveness is the constant juxtaposition of objective evil versus subjective evil.

A reader could also tackle A Dark Matter through the lens of post-modernism and the metafictional narrative. Straub has been using various literary frameworks, and while it's most transparent in select characters--the narrator who is an author himself, Hootie who quotes literary work, and the bibliophile demon--it's a paradigm that can be applied to the entire novel. There is, for example, the concept of conflicting narratives and points of view. Ryunosuke Akutagawa's "In the Grove" highlights this disparity but Straub takes it to another level here, not only due to the length, but by adding morality into the mix and increasing the ambiguity. There is also the relationship between memoir and fiction. Most people assume that just because it's nonfiction automatically means that it's real. But the fact is, both fiction and nonfiction are stories that we attach a narrative to, and there are details in which we might be mistaken or fabricate. That A Dark Matter is presented as a fictional memoir says something.

While no English Literature degrees are needed to enjoy A Dark Matter, Straub's latest novel is a definite heavyweight that genre and non-genre readers alike must read. This is a refreshingly ambitious book that constantly catches readers off-guard and actually delivers on its promise.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19, 2010 Links and Plugs

Here's the shortlist for Fully Booked's 3rd Graphic/Fiction Awards which includes copies of the texts. My complaint is 1) why isn't this at Fully Booked's website and 2) Flash isn't the best method to read fiction online (although obviously, the movies are fine).

Interviews
Advice/Articles
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Australian SpecFic Snapshot 2010
Hoping to read this soon...


The World House
by Guy Adams

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 18, 2010 Links and Plugs

With regards to Neil Gaiman's 3rd visit to the Philippines, there are two contests and one book signing fans can participate in: book signing | dinner with Gaiman/raffles | art contest.

Also, here's an interesting Aussie anthology...

Interviews
Advice/Articles
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Australian SpecFic Snapshot 2010
Zzz...

No Sleep Till Wonderland by Paul Tremblay

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17, 2010 Links and Plugs

I got Walking the Tree and The World House in the mail (at first I thought it was a bomb). How awesome is that?

Also, here are the rules to have dinner with Neil Gaiman in March here in Manila.

Interviews
Advice/Articles
News
Australian SpecFic Snapshot 2010
Happy Book Release Day:
Horns by Joe Hill

Interview: Alisa Krasnostein

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Alisa Krasnostein is the publisher of Twelfth Planet Press.

Hi Alisa! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, let's talk about Twelfth Planet Press. What made you decide to start the company?


I’ve loved mainstream science fiction all my life but I only really encountered indie press in about 2003/2004 through a friend of mine whose first short stories were starting to get published in local mags. I’d been freelancing as a nonfiction writer and editor for a couple of years and the local indie scene piqued my interest. I joined ASIM (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine) as a slush reader. Soon after that I started the review website ASif! (http://www.asif.dreamhosters.com) and then joined the ASIM Collective. I learned a lot behind the scenes at ASIM – how to slush read and as well as how to run a magazine. And eventually I thought I’d like to try doing it myself, move in my own direction and pursue my own publishing goals.

Why the name Twelfth Planet Press?

It comes about a bit through an in joke. Twelve planets refers to that period of time leading up to the conference to decide the fate of Pluto – was it a planet or a planetoid? And if it was to remain a planet, two other planetoids might need to be upgraded to planets, one of which was Ceres. We liked the connection to our shared world project “New Ceres” (http://twelfthplanetpress.wordpress.com/contacts/about/projects/new-ceres/) and were backing that camp. Around this time, I was working with Tansy Rayner Roberts and Ben Payne on a magazine. We were throwing ideas around both for the magazine theme and title. In the end we came up with Shiny (http://shinymag.blogpspot.com) and the anthology 2012. And we had “Twelfth Planet” left over and it seemed fitting use it to name the press.

What are the challenges in running a publishing company?

The biggest challenge for me is time. I’m at point now where I am working longer hours on the press than my day job and I still don’t have enough time in the week to get to everything that needs to be done. I hate that I can see the things that slide because of that. I rely a lot on the kindness of my friends and their offering of their skills and willingness to take on tasks to help me out. Without that support network, I don’t think this company would run at all. The other big challenge is distribution. It’s a full time job which I can’t remotely do justice to it at this point in time. The internet helps out enormously with that but it’s still not enough. A third challenge would be cutting through the white noise, competing for time and soundbytes, getting reviewers, readers and booksellThe short answer would be that I like novellas!

Aside from anthologies and short story collections, you're also releasing a novella series. Why novellas?

I am very pressed for time as a reader. I look at the way books seem to be getting thicker and longer and come in series volumes and I inwardly cry. I can’t remotely hope to keep up with that kind of demand from books anymore! Yet sometimes I want more than a short story can offer and so the novella became really appealing to me. As I researched into the form, I discovered a lot of classic books that end up on Must Read Before You Die lists are actually novella length and so the form sucked me in.

From a publishing point of view, the novella is a really useful product. It’s a lot less expensive to produce than an anthology or collection. I can take greater risks as a publisher on the kind of work I choose to buy and publish. I can also offer the reader this risk at a lower price. And for writers it offers a next step, in a way, between the short story and the novel. I see the novella series as a reader’s sampler for both Twelfth Planet Press and the writers we’re picking up. ers to take a risk and even just look at what we are doing.

I just got your Twelfth Planet Press Double, Roadkill/Sirenbeat. It's certainly an interesting format. What made you go this route? What can we expect from this imprint in the future?

The truth is, both of the writers had submitted these stories to me independently and at quite different times and I loved both but had no product to feature them in. The novelette is a tough form because it takes up a lot of space in an anthology but is too short to be a standalone volume. The solution to me was to go the double route which also gave me the opportunity to riff off the old Ace Doubles that so many people remember so fondly.

I have a couple of exciting volumes currently in development for 2010. I’m specifically looking for really strong, powerful works that also showcase writers I’ve had my eye on for the last couple of years and from whom I think we can expect good things in the not so distant future.

You're also savvy when it comes to the Internet, such as having a social networking presence. How does this factor into Twelfth Planet Press's business plan? Are there other formats (i.e. eBooks, podcasts, etc.) you're thinking of pursuing in the future?

The Internet forms a really large part of the current plan – not just for promoting and marketing and exposing readers to our books but also in keeping up to date on the publishing industry, on what people are reading and on what other publishing houses are doing. We recently started offering some of our books in ecopy via Smashwords. Being outside of the USA makes it virtually impossible to get onto Amazon in our own right. But I’ve been really impressed with the development of Smashwords both in interfacing with them as a publisher and also in terms of their distribution and links. We’re currently working on a Twelfth Planet Press podcast. And I’m quite interested in Fantasy Magazine’s new iphone App. I think that the publishing industry is evolving and I’m interested in seeing in what directions it will move.

How has the Internet made a company like Twelfth Planet Press viable? How about hurdles to overcome?

Twelfth Planet Press would not be viable without the Internet. A large proportion of our sales come via the Internet. I think the Internet enables likeminded people to find each other by breaking down the tyranny of distance. Readers who are interested in the sort of material I publish are also the kind of people who will seek out these kind of works and aren't afraid of the Internet.

The next hurdles for Twelfth Planet Press to overcome are distribution and growth and these two are interlinked. In order to grow, we need to increase distribution and in order to increase distribution, we need to grow.

As both a publisher and an editor, what do you look for in a story?

As an editor, I let the reader in me choose the stories I buy. I buy the stories that resonate within me, that demand that I think, that challenge me on ideas and/or that move me emotionally in some way. I look for stories that mean something, that say something or that stand out in some way, that are unique or give a unique slant on something done to death.

As a publisher I want to buy stories that I think will sell. I read a lot of the current publications to keep my eye on what is being published and where. I try to stay away from what is the current trend and look for other kinds of stories. But most of all, I look for really well written, tight stories. Because you can’t beat quality with just a good idea.

What's in store for Twelfth Planet Press in 2010?

I’m currently working on an anthology called Sprawl which will showcase the leading Australian short story writers. This anthology has a strong Australian voice and is filled with stories about Australian suburbia – all the different kinds that exist across the country, from Hobart to Brisbane, and Sydney to Perth.

I also have a boutique collection by Marianne de Pierres, called Glitter Rose which features four stories set on Stradbroke Island, Queensland.

Our first novel is due out – Robot War Espresso by Robert Hood, a young adult science fiction story featuring, well, coffee and robots at war.

And I’m working on two novella doubles out and the sequel to Horn for release in the year.

You've very passionate about Australian speculative fiction. How would you describe the field there?

I think there are pockets of really exciting activity going on. A lot of Australian specfic writers are concentrating on writing novels at the moment. For the short story editors it feels a little bit lean as many of the regulars have moved onto exciting novelist careers. There are currently a lot of Australian specfic novels being released and I think it’s a really exciting time for the fantasy novel here. A lot of our up and coming writers are … up and coming. I think we’re in a transition period with some really exciting new and fresh writers emerging.

Do you think there are specific qualities to Australian fiction that sets it apart from the rest of the world?

I’ve often read that Australians blur the genres of science fiction and fantasy more than American readers would like. As an Australian reader, I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing. I like the Australian fiction that is hard and rough and paints worlds that are too bright for your eyes – stories that reflect the harsh Australian environment. I think there are also some really strong works that make honest commentary on the politics and current affairs of the day.

In your opinion, who are the Australian writers/editors we should be looking out for?

Australian writers I’m watching include Thoraiya Dyer, Stephanie Campisi and Angela Slatter. I’m also keen to see what these writers do next – Peter M Ball, Kaaron Warren, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Deborah Biancotti, Ben Peek, Cat Sparks and Paul Haines.

Keith Stevenson remains a captivating editor, having released X6 in 2009 – a novellanthology which included one of the standout stories of the year, “Wives” by Paul Haines. I’m eager to see what Stevenson does next. He also hosts a monthly podcast called TISF which is well worth checking out as it includes one short story read by the author in each episode and a review of a new Australian work.

How did you find the time the juggle all your projects?

I don’t sleep as much as maybe I should. And I should exercise more.

What advice do you have for aspiring publishers?

The number one piece of advice I wish I was given when I started up is – take yourself seriously and approach it as a small business from the very beginning. Learn about money and set up a solid financial tracking system before you start dealing with sales and payments. And take advice on contract writing. A good website is the most important promotional tool you will ever invest in – if customers can’t find you, can’t buy your books or can’t find out information about you when they do find you, you’ll miss a sale and you won’t be taken seriously.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t rely on rejections to give you direction on how to improve. Join a writing group. Seek feedback. When an editor does take the time to give you advice, listen and don’t argue – the editor doesn’t care whether you agree or not. Learn to take criticism and don’t be difficult to edit. Submit and submit and submit.

Anything else you want to plug?

Now is a great chance to sample some of the award nominated works from 2009 in Australia. Twelfth Planet Press is offering free e-copies of Horn, A Book of Endings and Siren Beat through the month of February (http://girliejones.livejournal.com/1544355.html)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No Updates for Today

Unfortunately, I'm running late for work so there'll be no updates today. My apologies.

In the meantime, you might want to check the Australian SpecFic Snapshot.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 15, 2010 Links and Plugs

Happy Chinese New Year! And Valentines.

And the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards is finally coming together.

RIP Dick Francis.

Interviews
Advice/Articles
News
Who hasn't heard of Lester Del Rey?

Book/Magazine Review: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.


What finally piqued by curiosity when it comes to The Last Lecture were two things: the concept of an actual last lecture (the author, a professor, had an estimated three to six months to live), and the fact that it had been on the best-seller list for several months (and since I used to regularly post USA Today's best-sellers here on my blog, I learned pretty quick how to spell Pausch). This is obviously one of those inspirational books so I braced myself. I didn't know whether this was actually worth reading or not but the book was rather thin (at least compared to the fiction that I regularly read) so I thought I'd go through this pretty quick.

I think whatever doubts I had about the book was quickly dispelled in the introduction. It was simply two pages yet the first line, "I have an engineering problem," immediately hooked me and Randy Pausch manages to live up to the metaphor. It is also here that he admits that Jeffrey Zaslow helped him with the writing and I think it shows. Despite the non-fiction or inspirational category of The Last Lecture, there's a tightness and narrative to it that catches your attention in much the same way a good novel would.

For example, the first chapter starts out with the conflict: Pausch's wife, Jai, doesn't want him to do the last lecture because a) she wants him to focus the remaining time he has with his family and b) his flight to the university where the lecture takes place happens to be scheduled on her birthday. It's actually an awful dilemma to be in Pausch's position and this is what hooked me as a reader. (What finally won both of them over was that the lecture would be a DVD for their kids and my thoughts was that by the time the kids are old enough, DVDs would be antiques compared to whatever replaced Blu-Ray by then. Thank god for YouTube.)

This book actually isn't the lecture itself more than appendages to the lecture. We get a behind-the-scenes look behind what happens before, during, and after the lecture. It's structured so that you don't need to watch the lecture itself and again, there's a solid narrative structure here. For example, chapter three is titled "The Elephant in the Room" which refers to the author's pancreatic cancer. There's a big payoff in chapter ten when we return to the elephant metaphor as one of the lecturer attendees, a girl with cancer, picks an elephant stuffed animal which Pausch was giving away. There are several seeded scenes like these which elevates the book beyond simply giving straight-forward advice. It's also neatly divided into six sections, each section focusing on an appropriate agenda.

Most of my complaints is that when we come to the fifth section, the entire narrative structure falters. Whereas all the other chapters are neatly connected, this section is filled with random anecdotes which simply give advice. Not that the advice is faulty mind you. It's a mix of practicality and some cliches (Pausch admits that he likes cliches). If the other chapters were parts of a novel, chapter five is akin to throwing a series of short stories just before the concluding chapter. Still, this brief break from the main plot serves to make the final section all the more relevant.

I just watched the video and there are honestly a few points in the book that aren't too clear, or at least you need to re-read to understand, that would have been a lot more comprehensible had one seen the lecture.

Obviously, this is an inspiration book so that basically sums up whether you want to be reading this or not. As far as I'm concerned, The Last Lecture was an enjoyable read and well-written. It's not particularly life-changing for me but I do have some new quotes now which are relevant for the struggling writer. Here's my favorite one: "The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Plug: The 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Night

From Fully Booked:
Fully Booked and Neil Gaiman
present
REVELATIONS: Stories of Light and Darkness
The 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Night

Join us as Neil Gaiman reveals the winners of the prose fiction, comics and short film categories on Wednesday, March 17, 7PM at the Rockwell Tent, Power Plant Mall.

He will also unveil the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Anthology, a compendium of the winning entries plus selected stories from the past contests.

A special raffle will be held to award slots for an exclusive book signing on the same night.

Friday, February 12, 2010

February 12, 2010 Links and Plugs

This week's controversy revolves around The Living Dead Press's canceled GLBT antho. The publisher's official response is here. Personally, the incident reminds me why organizations like The Outer Alliance are invaluable.

Two publications I want to plug is Jeff VanderMeer's Monstrous Creatures and Twelfth Planet Press's Shiny.

Last but not least, people should read Andrew Wheeler's take on the eBook market.

Interviews
Advice/Articles
News
Didn't notice this until today...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 11, 2010 Links and Plugs

Yay, Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels paperback is out in the US. Go buy!

And last night's dinner was steak... wrapped in bacon!

Interviews
Advice/Articles
News
Here's a book from one of my favorite game designers:

The Conqueror's Shadow by Ari Marmell

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Clarifying Misconceptions on Amazon vs. Macmillan

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Titles have power. And in a certain sense, I don't like the title of this essay. Amazon vs. Macmillan is catchy and memorable but it also creates several misconceptions. One of which is that you're either on Amazon's side or Macmillan's side but that's not really the case. For this article, I'm taking a page from Andrew Wheeler's excellent Myths of Amazon/Macmillan (you should all go read it) and counter some of the statements made with regards to the issue.

1) Over at Indie Author, April Hamilton is pretty much saying to authors: blame Macmillan and don't side with them. "It was Macmillan which set forces in motion that ultimately resulted in the removal of ‘buy’ links, not Amazon, and while Amazon's actions in this seem excessive, I still see plenty of reasons for authors to be irked with Macmillan." It continues at how Macmillan's proposed model is harmful to authors.

I have two countering statements here. First, many of the authors aren't really siding with Macmillan more than blaming Amazon. Author Scott Westerfeld has a breakdown here. Another thing I'd add to that is that while Amazon is well within their rights to pull-out any product from their catalog, it would have been great to have given advance notice to Macmillan. But that's not the case here and Amazon simply withdrew the books during negotiations, in addition to pulling out print books (which were not the subject of discussion as far as we can surmise) as leverage.

My second counter-statement here is that the authors who dislike Amazon aren't necessarily fans of the agency model. Some are optimistic about it while others are skeptical. They're complaining about Amazon's actions in this instance, not necessarily of the business model they're using (or the one that Macmillan is proposing).

2) At Teleread, the title says it all: Maybe we should be hurting the authors. It goes on about the plight of the consumer: "Where is the voice of the customer in all of this? What are they doing to try and make things better for themselves?"

The problem here is that authors don't determine book prices--unless they also happen to be the publisher (i.e. self-publishers). Nor do authors, for that matter, have much say when it comes to book covers, and blaming authors for book prices is about as effective as complaining to them about their book covers.

If you want to complain about eBook pricing, the ones whom you should be addressing are publishers, retailers, and distributors (when it's applicable) as they have the most say in determining price. Statements like "Maybe we should be hurting the authors" is simply looking for a scapegoat, rather than addressing the actual problem. At this point in time, the only option authors have in determining price is whether they'd actually sell their book to a publisher or not (and in the case of Macmillan books, those rights have already been sold, and it's not like the author can suddenly rescind the rights just because they're unhappy about the publisher's price point).

3) Michael Stackpole currently has a series entitled Authors Can Be Stupid which touches on the Amazon/Macmillan issue but one of his posts that I'd like to tackle is Please Feed the Authors! "I certainly have sympathy for the authors whose work is caught in this catfight, but this call for readers to go out and buy their books right now is nonsense. The appeals make it appear that if we don’t buy now, these authors will starve."

For the record, what Stackpole says is true: if you buy a book now, the author will most likely get paid eight months down the line (if not later)--pending special arrangements with the publisher (probable for an independent press, not likely for a major publisher). And if you read the rest of the series, Stackpole does mention some benefits for going the eBook route, or even as a self-publisher in tandem with this.

My complaint however is the dismissive attitude he has for authors "calling for support". Well, at least as far as the authors I'm monitoring, none of them have informed their readers that they're dying and broke and need the money now, now, now! Macmillan authors who have book releases in February have cause for concern, mainly because they're working with the traditional publishing model which entails book promotions that end usually on the month of the book's debut. This is problematic because, let's face it, while there are some titles that sell consistently over time, the biggest spike in sales tends to be during the window of initial release. (It can be argued that this is a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma where publishers should promote a book a long time after its release but it's a moot point to an author working with a major publisher.) If a casual reader hears about the book and doesn't find it on Amazon, well, that's conceivably a lost sale. While books aren't as time-sensitive as other commodities--such as comics--it is still an issue.

Granted, there are other factors that might cause a spike in sales, such as your book getting adapted into another medium (such as movies). At worst, this is an opportunity for Macmillan authors to maximize the publicity they're getting (or not getting) and turn around what is typically a bad situation into a positive one. I'm just surprised that Stackpole--who has been a great promoter of his own titles--is being critical of such an action. (Again, I'd understand it if the authors were actually claiming "I'm starving, buy my books now!" but that's not the case. And Amazon's withdrawal of their titles, albeit temporarily, could impact their sales; we'll find out 8 months down the line right?)

An issue related to the Amazon/Macmillan issue that I'd like to tackle is eBook pricing.

eBook Pricing

I've tackled the issue of eBook pricing before (1, 2). Not to rehash much of it, let's look at it from a different perspective. There are two factors that determine the price of a product (any product, not just eBooks):

  1. The cost to produce the product and
  2. Perceived value.

Let's talk about #2 first. Here, the $9.99 price point wins out. We live in a world where people value tangible products more than intellectual property. That's why cases that involve theft of the latter is harder to adjucate than the former. (And to their credit, it's sometimes harder to prove.) And just look at the typical reaction when it comes to eBook prices: people rationalize eBook pricing by saying "I don't want to pay hardcover price for an eBook". Or even authors say "eBooks should be priced less than the print book" but how much exactly, they can't really say. This is an instinctive and gut reaction. And more often than not, it's not rational.

One of the arguments for cheaper eBooks is that the publisher isn't paying for additional costs, such as printing. Yes, that's true. But printing costs around 10% - 20% of the retail price. For a $25.00 hardcover, that drives down the book to $20.00. But most eBook buyers aren't content with $20.00. They want it down to $9.99 (and $9.99 is, in itself, a psychological trick--why not a whole number such as $10.00?).

And then there are other reasons batted around such as publishers not paying for storage space, shipping costs, returns, etc. Again, that's only a percentage of the retail price of a book. But they also neglect to mention factors that sway print books in favor of the publisher. Books for example can be pulped and provide a significant tax deduction. The same can't be said of eBooks.

So when we talk about the price point $9.99, recognize that it's an arbitrary number that consumers respond to, irrationally or otherwise. That's not to dismiss $9.99, but recognize that it's what people are willing to pay for, no matter how much you justify everything else. And to most consumers, this is their paradigm when they talk about eBook pricing.

Tragically, going back to the topic of valuing tangible products over intellectual property, we see the former in play when it comes to the consumer's view of eBook pricing. Readers don't say "I think this eBook is worth $0.99 while that eBook is worth $9.99". Instead, they say "I'm not willing to pay $14.99 for this author's work". They conveniently ignore the benefits eBooks have over books (for example, you get the book immediately when you order it online, as opposed to waiting for it to arrive at your doorstep; or the fact that you can print and make multiple copies of an eBook--and if it can't, well, blame either the retailer or the publisher or whoever's dictating the format) or the fact that what we prize about books isn't that it's a glorified paper weight, but rather the message it carries--the story in the case of Fiction--which should translate whether it's a book or an eBook. (Sure, there are other factors, such as readability, but if eBooks are difficult to read for you, why are you buying eBooks in the first place?)

And then there's point #1. Hardcovers are relatively expensive because while I wouldn't say that the cost to produce the product is cheap, it's modest enough. People's perceived value of it, however, is high, hence warranting the $25.00~$30.00 price tag. (Arguably, the publisher could sell it for $20.00 but that means someone down the line, whether it's the publisher, distributor, retailer or author, is getting less profits.) Mass-market paperbacks, on the other hand, are cheap, not because it's significantly cheaper to produce, but because publishers can sell it in large quantities for its price point. It's the supply vs. demand argument: mass-market paperbacks are cheap because it sells a lot.

Now some consumers want eBooks to be priced the same as mass-market paperbacks. Unfortunately, looking at it from the production cost point of view (which is the paradigm of most publishers), they can't, at least doing so without taking a significant loss. Again, mass-market paperbacks are cheap because it sells a lot. In order for eBooks to be competitively priced as mass-market paperbacks (I include competitively because feel free to shave off the 10% retail price it costs to print the book), eBook sales must equal mass-market paperback sales. But that's simply not the current reality. Compare the number of people with eBook readers vs. the number of people actually buy mass-market paperbacks, and there's already a disproportion in the numbers (heck, I'm even hard-pressed to make the argument that eBook sales equal that of hardcover sales--although I have no hard numbers). One might boast that Amazon's Kindle has sold millions of books but bear in mind that's all the books that have been bought, not any single particular title. That could represent 10 copies sold of each Macmillan title and that's honestly not profitable enough for each book to stand on its own feet.

Those clamoring for $9.99 might claim that it's not significantly costing the publisher to convert their books to eBooks. Well, that's what we call subsidizing:

eBook Subsidizing

Right now, when we talk about eBooks, a lot of them are priced at a point where it's being subsidized. Now I'm not a fan of subsidization because it means that in the long-term, a particular model is not self sustaining. But we'll get back to that later.
  1. Free - Some eBooks are simply free. Cory Doctorow uses this tactic to boost the sales of his print books by having his fiction fall under the Creative Commons License. This is typically part of a publisher's marketing strategy. Note that this is only sustainable as far as the print books are selling.
  2. Reduced Costs via Print Books - Some eBooks are not priced to be self-sustaining. Instead, they're priced in tandem with the publisher's books. The books do much of the selling and the eBooks are there for the few who want them, building good will with the publisher's customer base. Or it might yield some profit for the publisher, but it stops becoming sustainable the moment the publisher dumps its print books. Here, the books pay for the other factors that go into producing a book: the editor, the layout artist, the proofer, marketing, etc. while the eBooks pay the publisher, the author, and the retailer.
  3. Reduced Costs via Some Other Method - This is how Amazon is selling their eBooks. It could be theorized that Amazon is losing out on every eBook it sells if it's priced under $10.00, but that they're making up for it in Kindle sales. Here, eBooks are a loss-leader. (However, read Myths of Amazon/Macmillan as to why this might not be the case.) The other theory is that Amazon is gambling that they'll get significant market share in the future using their current strategy (remember the time when Amazon was giving significant discounts even on mass-market paperbacks? Why aren't they giving the same discounts now?) Either way, this really isn't a model that's universally applicable. Or if you're not in the business of selling eBook readers.

Now there are claims that Amazon is interested in developing the eBook market. That's not exactly accurate: Amazon is interested in developing its own eBook market, and that's the business model it's based on. It's a model that's full of control on Amazon's part (which is why Amazon refuses to disclose the Kindle's exact capabilities, and how they can "pull" books from you such as in the case of 1984, or the sample chapters from Macmillan). Even the format Amazon uses--its own proprietary format that's closed and DRM-protected--is telling. Not that I blame them, mind you, but it's not Amazon's best interest to innovate the eBook market in general, unless it's under their own terms.

Now to produce a book, eBook or otherwise, there are several people that need to be paid: the author, the editor, the layout artist, marketing, etc. If you don't do it all yourself and not having books to subsidize payment for those services, you need to be selling a lot of eBooks to price them cheaply (i.e. $9.99)--which at this point in time is, I think untenable*. Amazon's model works for Amazon because of the reasons that I cited above.

As for the pricing of the other subsidized eBooks, they work fine for now, but if you genuinely believe that eBooks are the wave of the future and that one day, print books will disappear, then publishers need to look to a model that's self-sustaining and doesn't involve subsidies. This means pricing books at a higher rate than what it is now (or growing demand for them), or looking at other business models. Macmillan's Agency model, in my opinion, looks clunky. It does favor print books over eBooks, but it also makes the latter more self-sustaining: there's no loss-leaders involved (and in this sense, Amazon still wins as they're profiting for every eBook sold) and the pricing scheme is more flexible. Is there a more efficient system? Possibly, but a willingness to experiment is, I think, the key to finding one.

*That's not to say it's impossible. If you're selling a short story--as opposed to novels--for example as an eBook, I think that's certainly doable, although some entrepreneurial skills will be needed. Or you could simply be a self-publisher, handling everything from editing to layout to marketing.